By Nick Clark
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Protest puts pressure on Iranian government

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"The protests spread because Iranian society has been on the brink of bursting for at least the past five years" says socialist in Iran
Issue 2825

Students protesting at Amir Kabir University in Iran in September (Picture: Twitter/@GazelleSharmahd)

People in some 80 cities across Iran marched, reportedly barricaded streets and defied brutal repression over the weekend as a huge protest movement entered its third week.

Iranian police—some reportedly in plain clothes and firing live ammunition—attacked a group of around 200 protesters at a university in the capital Tehran on Sunday.

News and social media reports say that cops laid siege to the campus, and shot at students trapped in an underground car park. It came as the growing protest movement seemed to put pressure on the right wing government of Ebrahim Raisi and the state. 

The movement began after the police killing of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after being arrested for wearing her headscarf “improperly”.

Sharif Amozgar, a socialist in Tehran, told Socialist Worker that the movement reflected growing anger at the state’s authoritarian laws—but also frustration at years of economic crisis. “Mahsa Amini’s death under morality police custody was a spark in a powder keg,” he said.

“The majority of protesters are the middle class youth that face a bleak and precarious future challenged by unemployment, falling purchasing power, and rising inflation.

“This dire economic situation is because Iran has embraced neoliberal policies since the early 1990s.  “It is grotesquely difficult for the young generation to start a life and make a living in this dire situation of Iran’s economy.

“So the protests spread because Iranian society has been on the brink of bursting for at least the past five years. “One decade of long economic recession, and arrogance from the political elite toward a desperate middle class and an increasingly militant working class has made the outburst of people’s fury and street  protests just a matter of time.” The protests have so far also withstood horrific state repression. 

Police assaults on protests have killed at least 52 people.  The government also shuts down the internet between 12 noon and midnight every day in a bid to stop protesters organising and communicating.

But there are also signs that the scale and widespread support for the protests has put the government under pressure.  The state-linked Etala’at newspaper called for the government to “tolerate voices of opposition and protest”. So the government also wants to split the movement by creating a divide between protesters and infiltration from rioters and “conspirators”—implicitly its rivals the US and Israel.

Sharif said that support or sympathy for the  movement stretches beyond the ranks of those who join the protests.  “Several official public polls show that the majority of Iranian people,  70 percent—whether religious or secular—are against the compulsory wearing of the headscarf,” he said. 

“So it is not an internal fight between religious and secular people, but between the majority of people and the ruling elite.  “And it is not merely about the headscarf, it is about economic justice and political freedom.”

He said that, though some groups supported by the US have tried to influence the movement, “Outside actors have no power to ignite an uprising on such a scale. “A crucial feature of this round of protests is its unorganised nature,” Sharif said. “People usually gather in specific hours—between 6 and 7 or 8 and 10—in specific streets or neighbourhoods and wait for others to show up and start their protests despite severe state repression in the streets.”

But Sharif also warned against any attempts by the US and its allies to latch onto the movement for its own aims. “Some Republican senators in the US are advocating for more sanctions or even military intervention,” he said.

“That would be a disaster for the Iranian people. Sanctions are directly against ordinary people and their basic needs and economic wellbeing. 

“Leftists in the west should vocally fight against any more economic sanctions or threats of military intervention.”

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